The Sokal hoax began in 1996 when Alan Sokal submitted an article to Social Text to test the academic rigor and to see if editors were swayed by personal opinion. The article was published and later revealed to be a hoax.
This is where the new hoax comes in. Beginning in 2017, “Sokal Squared,” or the Grievance Studies Affair, began when three researchers submitted 20 articles to various academic journals regarding culture, race, gender, fat and sexuality research.
The trio of James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, submitted these papers to various journals. Seven of the papers were accepted and four of them were published. One of the papers received a “Special Recognition Award.”
One of the accepted papers had a portion in it that was a rewrite of a chapter from “Mein Kampf.”
The jury is currently out on the repercussions this will have for professors who submitted the fake papers. Many professors in the social sciences have condemned their actions.
“The peer review system is not set up as a detective agency to challenge a researcher’s word,” Dr. Pepper Glass. “It takes for granted that they are being honest in representations of their work. The hoax shows less than it claims to show.”
The main concern of many professors is the ethics that the researchers fail to show.
“As someone in the social sciences and humanities, I found this very disconcerting,” Dr. Bobbi Van Gilder said. “Much like medical doctors, academics are also held to ethical standards — they are required to ethically report findings to ensure the accuracy of scientific knowledge.”
However, many other professors and researchers, especially those involved in the social sciences, called the idea that this was a study false. Many believe this calls into question the authors as much as, if not more, than the academic journal.
“At best, the hoax does show that some research is published that does not fit standards of quality,” Glass said. “At worst, it’s a politically-biased hit job meant to discredit innovative research on women, people of color and other marginalized groups through fraud that wasted the time of editors and reviewers.”
The targets of Sokal Squared were social science journals, specifically having to do with gender and race. Social science has often been the target of “hoax studies.” Part of this may be caused by the more abstract nature of the field.
“It is difficult to say if a physics journal would fall for the same hoax,” Glass said. “Publishing an article that added to established theory by using invented data.”
There have been falsified studies in “hard” science, from self-regenerating hearts to cold fusion, but there have been few verifiable hoaxes that claim to expose the problems in academia in those fields.
“These appear occasionally in every science,” Dr. Marjukka Ollilanine
n said. “Sokal Squared speaks more about the authors than the publishers. When we get manuscripts, it’s not the job of the peer reviewers to check data. It’s an honor system.”
One such study, published by former doctor and researcher Andrew Wakefield, falsified data and was retracted and found false. However, according to Van Glider it did exacerbate an anti-vaccination movement, which has been pointed to as the result of multiple measles outbreaks in Western countries.
“This is an extreme of example that illustrates the dangers of falsifying data, but, cases like Wakefield’s work and the Sokal Hoax do create a ‘crisis of confidence’ in published studies,” Van Glider said.
Though these studies do appear in every field, there are few that condone the actions of those who perpetrate these hoaxes. Often, nothing comes of these studies that benefit the people who study the fields and simply play into biases and previously-made assumptions.